ARC Professional Development Programme develops the young scientist

The Agricultural Research Council’s flagship Professional Development Programme is designed to empower young scientists and promote their participation in the agricultural sector – thereby helping to address the critical shortage of qualified and skilled natural scientists in South Africa.

The Agricultural Research Council’s flagship Professional Development Programme is designed to empower young scientists and promote their participation in the agricultural sector – thereby helping to address the critical shortage of qualified and skilled natural scientists in South Africa.

Published Aug 1, 2023


A magnificent event takes centre stage in the vibrant land of South Africa each year; captivating hearts and minds alike. It has become known as National Science Week (NSW) - a renowned occasion dedicated to the awe-inspiring realm of science. This week-long commemoration, with the overarching theme of “Transforming Lives Through Evidence-Based Science,” acts as a beacon, illuminating the profound impact science can have on individuals, society, and the nation as a whole.

Former President Nelson Mandela once famously said: "Education is the most powerful weapon that you can use to change the world”. These words stand as a timeless reminder of the value of education and its ability to bring about transformative change. To honour his legacy, the month of July has been declared Mandela Month - a time to commemorate his vision and advocate for education.

Agricultural Research Council

The Agricultural Research Council (ARC), one of the arms of government, has taken up Mandela's call by empowering young agricultural scientists who will contribute to the economy through their scientific research. Established in 1990 under the Agricultural Research Act (Act No 86 of 1990, as amended), the ARC's primary objective is to conduct research, drive research and development, and promote technology development and skills transfer.

During Mandela Month, the ARC, in collaboration with government departments and other stakeholders, not only celebrates the late former president's legacy, but also actively participates in NSW in an effort to promote science as a subject and a career of choice in South Africa.

Professional Development Programme

Agricultural excellence is crucial for South Africa's development, and the establishment of the Professional Development Programme (PDP) has played a pivotal role in achieving this. The PDP was introduced by agricultural policymakers, CEOs, strategists and legislators with the aim of empowering individuals from all walks of life and ensuring inclusive benefits for all South Africans.

The ARC, being at the forefront of nurturing the agricultural sector, designed the flagship PDP to empower young scientists and promote their participation in the agricultural industry. This programme serves as a catalyst for future employment in the science and technology environment; contributing significantly to the growth of the agricultural sector and South Africa's economic prosperity.

A strong agricultural sector is indispensable for a stable country - generating direct and indirect job opportunities for all South Africans. The ARC strategically positions itself to provide scientific research that fosters resilience and food security. The ARC's PDP aims to create opportunities for candidates from previously disadvantaged backgrounds to develop their skills and potential, benefiting both themselves and the agricultural sector.

The PDP addresses the critical shortage of qualified and skilled natural scientists in South Africa. By focusing on young agricultural graduates from disadvantaged communities, this programme aims to develop their capacity and knowledge; ultimately meeting the country's crucial objective of economic growth.

The impact of the PDP and employee development within the ARC is evident in the significant changes the organisation has undergone. Over the years, the PDP has grown from offering fewer than 50 postgraduate programmes to an impressive count of more than 190 in 2020.

The number of employees pursuing postgraduate degrees beyond a Bachelor of Honours has surged from fewer than 60 to more than 250. Notably, more than 54 students have obtained Doctoral degrees through the education and training provided by the ARC. These remarkable achievements represent a substantial contribution to skills development, with a strong focus on empowering black South African graduates. More than 80% of PDP beneficiaries were black; and more than 60% were women.

The PDP has consistently produced exceptional scientists who continue to make significant strides in their careers. Several PDP alumni have returned to the ARC in senior positions, serving as mentors and role models for other young graduates.

By nurturing talent, promoting inclusivity, and fostering scientific advancements, the ARC PDP programme has become an instrumental force in driving sustainable growth and propelling South Africa towards a prosperous future.

Graduate programme positions are typically full-time, with fixed-term contracts ranging from 12 to 24 months (in some cases, up to three years). Recruitment for these programmes is rigorous, as companies seek highly competent graduates with immense potential, envisioning them as future leaders and specialists within the organisation.

To meet the demands of a rising population, researchers must develop improved crops, healthier animals, and more sustainable farming methods.

By joining the ARC-PDP programme, individuals can enjoy the following advantages:

  • A stronger CV:
  • Career progression:
  • Leadership opportunities:
  • Personal guidance and mentoring:
  • Structured training:

A well-structured graduate programme is more than just hiring recent graduates. It creates a pathway for their long-term development, attracting motivated individuals and offering clear career progression plans. This not only motivates participants to excel, but also increases their chances of promotion. Additionally, a strong graduate programme benefits your business by fostering growth, improving staff retention, adapting to digital technology trends, and cultivating diversity in the workplace. This brings varied perspectives, talents, and ideas - enhancing productivity and providing a competitive edge.

A graduate scheme offers access to diverse talent, bringing fresh perspectives and skill sets to your team. For example, Prof Norman Maiwashe, a successful graduate of the PDP programme, now leads the Animal Productions Institute, benefiting farmers by researching cattle breeds adapted to South African conditions. Similarly, Dr Litha Magingxa, a PDP programme graduate, is now the CEO and President of the ARC, reinforcing the organisation's expertise. Embracing a graduate programme nurtures early-career talent, improving staff retention and driving long-term success in a competitive landscape, ensuring your company stays relevant and thrives.

As the world's population grows and climate change poses new challenges, the demand for agricultural research continues to rise. To meet this demand, researchers must develop improved crops, healthier animals, and more sustainable farming methods, ensuring the production of nutritious food for a growing population while preserving the country's biodiversity.

The ARC takes pride in its role as a producer of leaders in the agricultural, science and technology sectors. The ARC-PDP programme serves as a powerful vehicle for empowering young individuals and making a substantial impact on their future. With structured training, career progression, personal guidance and mentoring, the programme equips participants with the necessary skills and expertise to excel in their fields.

The PDP, led by the ARC, stands as a transformative initiative in the agricultural sector of South Africa. It provides opportunities for aspiring scientists to grow and contribute to the country's economic development. The programme's achievements reflect the ARC's commitment to skills development, empowerment and excellence; ultimately shaping a brighter future for all South Africans.

The PDP continues to offer numerous benefits including career progression, personal growth, and structured training. Investing in graduate programmes such as the PDP allows companies to tap into a pool of talented individuals, fostering innovation and diversity within their organisations. With visionary leaders like Prof Norman Maiwashe and Dr Litha Magingxa, who have thrived through the PDP, the ARC continues to make significant contributions to the agricultural and scientific sectors of South Africa. The ARC prides itself on the fact that in the past 10 years, it has produced leaders who continue to shape the science sector. A special project like the ARC-PDP programme can contribute significantly to the empowerment of young people.

In a harmonious symphony of scientific excellence, empowerment, and the enduring legacy of Nelson Mandela, NSW in South Africa becomes an extraordinary platform for radical transformation. With the resounding theme of "Transforming Lives through Evidence-Based Science," NSW inspires minds, ignites passions, and propels the nation towards a brighter future. Within this celebration, the PDP emerges as a powerful catalyst, unlocking the potential of young scientists and nurturing their journey towards success. As Mandela Month adds its timeless essence, the spirit of education and equality resonates throughout, reminding us that through the power of knowledge and inclusivity, we can create a world where science, innovation, and opportunity intertwine, shaping a nation that thrives on the wonders of evidence-based science.